How can we design a state-of-the-art research center that unifies Brown's School of Engineering?
Founded in 1847, the engineering program at Brown University is the oldest in the Ivy League. But when Brown elevated its department to the status of School of Engineering in 2010, it was still without a cohesive home. After several decades of growth, the engineering program had segmented into three buildings with only tangential connections in both program and design. In 2014, Brown commissioned KieranTimberlake to design a new Engineering Research Center (ERC) that would not only provide facilities to expand and advance the department's research and instructional capacity, but fuse the disparate assembly of earlier structures into a physically integrated school.
Labs and Interdisciplinarity
A suite of multi-disciplinary laboratories is at the core of the ERC's program. Cutting edge and customizable, the building's engineering labs are designed to adapt to shifting research types and encourage multidisciplinary, interdepartmental collaboration. Central to the project are a pair of state-of-the-art cleanrooms. Often tucked away from prying eyes, the sensitive nanotechnology and micro-electronics cleanroom at the ERC is instead front and center and features specially filmed, UV-filtering exterior windows that encourage passersby to peer inside. To protect the sensitive research equipment, the ERC sits on a slab that dampens vibrations from nearby street traffic. Additionally, its high-performance imaging suite actively cancels electromagnetic fields that may otherwise interfere with highly sensitive nanoscale research.
Flexible, loft-like work spaces flank each laboratory. These “collab” group work spaces line the perimeter glass wall to maximize daylight and views into and out of the collaborative work and conference areas. Designed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration at every turn, the ERC is positioned as a shared community resource with both labs and work areas that traverse barriers and encourage knowledge sharing. Clearly exposed mechanical and electrical systems not only facilitate flexible use, but become central expressions of the architecture.
An Environmental Aesthetic
A striking glass exterior affords expansive views of Brown's campus from inside the ERC. Especially at night, it appears as an illuminated lantern from the exterior. Despite its transparent properties, the facade extends the masonry vocabulary of the surrounding campus with vertical glass-fiber concrete shading fins that reduce glare and manage solar heat gain.
The shading fins are a unifying and rhythmic element across the facade. Their depth varies in accordance with solar exposure: deeper fins shade the south and west, while vestigial fins shade the north. Lateral expanded metal screens provide additional solar shading to the south and cast patterns of shade and shadow onto the facade, making environmental performance a compelling and ever-changing aesthetic event. Targeting LEED Gold certification, the project has high sustainability aspirations for an energy-intensive building type; in addition to the innovative facade, integrated building and landscape systems optimize energy use and minimize environmental impact.